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Lucy's Awfully Big Art Adventure

Do you sometimes find it's not so much the art itself as the stories behind it that make for a really enjoyable exhibition? It's certainly the case at Towner Eastbourne in  A Life in Art: Lucy Wertheim, Patron, Collector, Gallerist  and  Reuniting the Twenties Group: From Barbara Hepworth to Victor Pasmore ; these two linked shows take us well beyond the paintings and sculpture to uncover fascinating personal histories and to shine a light on the mid 20th-century art scene in Britain. And, unless you're an absolute expert in the art of the period, you'll discover many talented artists who are very unfamiliar names.  Who was Lucy Wertheim? Without formal art training but with a fair amount of money, she broke into the male-dominated British art scene and was a patron to many young artists, establishing her own gallery in London in 1930. She set up the Twenties Group -- artists in their 20s, as the name suggests -- whose work she tried to exhibit round the country, with l

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Breaking News: It's a Winner

The intro to the lead story in Britain's oldest surviving newspaper, the Corante of September 24, 1621, was a little wordy: "There is advice from Naples, that certaine Ambassadours of Messina are arrived there and from thence are to go into Spaine, to congratulate the king and to give him a present of 150000 crownes...."
By 1944, the sub-editors had tightened things up considerably. For the midday BBC bulletin on June 6, John Snagge needed only four syllables to get the news across: "D-Day has come." 

Breaking the News at the British Library in London takes us back through centuries of reporting the news, making, faking and manipulating it, in an absolutely fascinating exhibition. Hundreds of exhibits -- old newspapers, photographs, film and video -- demonstrate how the technology has improved, and the writing is sometimes a lot slicker, but also that dubious and unethical practices have been going on just as long.
For those of us who started our journalism careers in the days when reporters carried plenty of loose change to be able to call in a story from a working phone box, who put up with the sticking keys on manual typewriters and who had to perform a lot of mental arithmetic to lay out a page, this is also a chance to revel in the days when newspapers were king and sold in their millions. 
And as grizzled old hacks will tell you, nothing sells like sex, sin, crime and scandal. So it's highly appropriate that that's where this show starts; the classic 1970s story of beauty queen Joyce McKinney and the Mormon missionary tied to a bed, the Whitechapel murders by Jack the Ripper, whoever he was, and of course that defining tale of the 1960s: the Profumo scandal. If you're too young to remember, War Secretary John Profumo had an affair with model and showgirl Christine Keeler, who may, or may not, have slept with the Soviet naval attaché. Profumo denied it and then had to admit it. 
Things were so different back then: the Daily Express was a highly respected newspaper, and ministers actually resigned for misleading the House of Commons. Anyway, there it is, the front page, with its terrific headline, as well as pictures of Mrs Profumo (the former actress, Valerie Hobson) and Christine Keeler herself. We've cropped this picture, but below the fold (broadsheet newspapers were once quite large), you can savour the text of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's brief response to Profumo's resignation letter, whose tone seems centuries old ("Dear Profumo, The contents of your letter of June 4 have been communicated to me...."), and find an ad for Babycham

The old adage that a picture paints a thousand words, so often cited at an editorial meeting, is certainly true. On October 22, 1966, the Welsh daily newspaper, The Western Mail, devoted most of its front page to one enormous photograph: the mining village of Aberfan cut in two by a grey seam of slurry. 
Under the headline "71 Killed, 60 Still Lost", you could clearly see where the rain-sodden coal-mine spoil had slid down from the tip and engulfed the school and swept away terraced houses in its path.

Before photography, of course, you really had to spell it out. Victorian news reports were very long. Nine decades earlier, it was hard to discover on the front page of The Aberdeen Journal just how many people had died in the shocking collapse of a railway bridge as a train was crossing the River Tay in late 1879. In type that needed a magnifying glass to decipher, the latest developments were described in tortuous detail in a report that flowed over several columns. "Is there much more of this?" you can imagine the copytaker asking.  

Of course, the pace was so much slower in those days, so you probably had plenty of time to read the newspaper. Or wait your turn.
One of those big, big broadsheets again, and uncut. In Waiting for The Times on the Morning after the Reform Debate, 8 October 1831 by Benjamin Robert Haydon, the scene is a London gentlemen's club. What had been said in Parliament yesterday during debate on the extension of the voting franchise and the abolition of rotten boroughs? The way to find out was to read The Times, the newspaper of record.  

Of course, there's real news, and then there's fake news. They've been making it up for as long as they've been telling it. Sometimes, the completely bizarre could be reported as the truth. Brice's Weekly Journal was one of several newspapers to relate as fact the 1726 hoax that a woman called Mary Toft had given birth to rabbits. She was later imprisoned for fraud. "The Rabbit Affair is become the Subject of so much Conversation," the paper said, as it detailed witness statements that her husband had been buying up young rabbits in and around Godalming in Surrey "and desired no body might know it."  

In time of war, truth is often a casualty. The Daily Mail published a faked photograph on its front page in 1917 purporting to show German troops carting away corpses. The paper alleged fat from the bodies of dead soldiers was being used to make shells. 
This came two years after a British government report reproduced many unsubstantiated claims of German atrocities in Belgium, drawing much newspaper coverage. 

Then there's misreporting, and in the desire to get the news out, the taking of liberties and the muddling of information. Take the sinking of the Titanic after a collision with an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic in 1912. 

As radio operators scoured the airwaves for wireless messages in the scramble to find out what happened, reports of a ship being towed to Halifax with no casualties were mistakenly interpreted as referring to the Titanic. "All Passengers Rescued This Morning," read one of a deck of headlines in the Westminster Gazette on April 15. 

Meanwhile, newsreel footage related to the disaster didn't actually show the Titanic, as it purported to, but her sister ship, the Olympic. The latter was the flagship in the White Star Line's trio of luxurious liners and thus had been the focus of the cameramen.

There's more, a lot more in this exhibition: how the press reported the unhappy marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, Lord Byron's private life, Oscar Wilde's trial on charges of indecency, WT Stead's sensational investigation into child sex trafficking, the Hitler Diaries, "It's The Sun Wot Won It," the end of the News of the World. And there's no shying away from coverage of contentious issues in the news: Grenfell Tower, racism and homophobia. 

The ancestor of the political cartoon gets a look-in too. Here's George Cruikshank's biting caricature of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, in which unarmed demonstrators were cut down by troops. 
"Chop 'em down! My brave boys," says the officer. "Remember the more you kill, the less poor rates you'll have to pay."  

Right up to Covid, Ukraine and Wagatha Christie, this is a hugely wide-ranging show, full of interest, really well laid out, beautifully illustrated and comprehensively explained. Much to ponder on, a fair bit to get angry about; just like a good old popular newspaper, it's informative, shocks, impresses, titillates and sparks debate. Give yourself plenty of time; we spent 2 1/2 hours in there. 


Breaking the News is on at the British Library in London until August 21. Hours are a bit complicated: The exhibition opens at 0930 Monday to Saturday and 1100 on Sundays and closes at 1700 at the weekend, 2000 on Tuesdays and 1800 the other days. Full price-tickets are £16 and can be bought online here; there's a £2 surcharge for tickets bought at the door, if available. British Library staff say their experience from the recent Elizabeth & Mary exhibition was that tickets do tend to sell out towards the end of the run, so don't leave it too late to book. The library is on Euston Road and is close to King's Cross, St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square rail and Underground stations.


Logo at entrance to Breaking the News exhibition
Daily Express front page, June 6, 1963, British Library
Western Mail front page, October 22, 1966, British Library
Benjamin Robert Haydon, Waiting for The Times on the Morning After the Reform Debate, 8 October 1831, 1831, Times Newspapers Ltd
Daily Mail front page, May 4, 1917, British Library
George Cruikshank, Massacre at St Peter's or "Britons Strike Home"!!!, 1819, British Museum


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